Italian superstar and Liverpool forward Mario Balotelli is struggling through one of the darkest patches of his already heavily polka-dotted career. The 24 year-olda s on-field statistics make for miserable reading: one goal in 13 league appearances, one more goal in a dismal Champions League campaign on Merseyside, and not a single assist in any competition. Signed to help shore up the gaps following Luis Suareza s summer exit to Barcelona, the young Italian is lurching from misfortune to misfortune in his own distinctive style, prompting many to question why he was brought to England in the first place. Whatever has happened to Mario Balotelli?
Balotelli first came to the spotlight playing a reduced role in Mourinhoa s treble with Inter Milan. In 2011 he helped bring Manchester City the FA Cup with a man of the match performance that highlighted his occasionally exceptional work-rate. One year later his two strikes opened the scoring in Citya s 6-1 humiliation of Manchester United, a game that Ferguson described as the worst of his career. Balotelli provided the golden assist to that Aguero goal that won City the league. He was pivotal in Italya s road to the 2012 European final. Before his move to Liverpool he had a goal tally of 43 goals in 78 games for Italy and AC Milan in all competitions since 2012, including international qualifiers and friendlies. It was thanks to his goals that Milan qualified for the Champions League in 2013.
There is no doubting Balotellia s unquestionable capacity for brilliance, the ability to win a match through one moment of simple beauty. However, his torrid time at Liverpool has begged the inevitable question of how long can you maintain patience with a player who has cornered the market for impatience. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must shoulder at least part of the blame, with inconsistent formations and playing time doing little to help the Italiana s cause. The Northern Irishman seemed to expect him to fill the void left by Suarez and run up and down, pressuring defenders. Last season’s Liverpool thrived when attacking through SAS, Coutinho and Sterling, and when they lost the ball everybody pressed together until it was theirs again. How can you expect a target man to fit into that system? Would you judge Ibrahimovic, Berbatov or Totti by their pressing? They make runs, but they’re hardly in and out of the box like Mandzukic, Cavani or the aforementioned Suarez, yet they have had glorious careers. Some strikers show their skills in different ways. It is also noteworthy that none of Rodgersa strikers have done well this season. Borini, Lambert and Sturridge have scored one, two and three goals respectively, in 39 combined appearances.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic once said “You don’t buy a buy a Ferrari to drive it like a Fiat.” With Liverpool, Balotelli just doesn’t fit into the system. At Milan, he had the likes El Shaarawy and Boateng making runs for him up front, while the midfield cleaned up after him. Everything was built around Balotelli, allowing him time on the ball, to dribble and shoot from a distance and gradually drift forward while others dragged away his markers. Scoring 12 goals in 13 games for Milan in the 2012/2013 season was a particular high point. Play his way and he’ll perform. Yes, his work rate is poor, and one would expect better from him but maybe that’s the problem. People expect too much from Balotelli.
It’s only natural. Millionaire athletes are told to be Falcao by 24 when they score a few at 18. Sometimes they rise to the occasion, but the majority that fail are forgotten. Pato, Bojan, Robinho and countless others were destined for greatness, but suffered from too many expectations being put on their shoulders. With every Neymar, G tze or James Rodriguez, one forgets that players like van Persie, Baines or Robben, really started blooming later on in their careers. Sometimes we need to remember that when thinking about Balotelli.
The media needs to take a share of the blame for tearing into the Italian as their favorite punching bag. For years he’s been at the end of an English tabloid witch hunt. When he was at Milan the Gazzetta Dello Sport routinely followed his cars, his girlfriends, his fashion, and of course jumped on his odd slip up. He has been given the role of clown figure. a Oh what has Mad Mario gotten up to now?a goes through most people’s heads when they read the latest headline. While the incident of him allegedly justifying having 5000 Pounds in his car with a because I am rich,a engraved his arrogance into the eyes of the public, no story stuck more than his bathrooma s curtain being set on fire by what he says was a friend. Plenty of made-up stories circulated as well, including one of him dressing up as Santa Claus and handing people money in the street.
Rooney had sex with a grandmother, Giggs slept with his brother’s wife, Messi evaded taxes and countless players did worse things than Balotelli. However no one has the media persona that Balotelli does.
After Italya s World Cup failure he received plenty of criticism, much of it tinged in racism that he resorted to Instagram in self-defense. He explained that he was a sad, angry and disappointeda with himself. Balotelli then labeled the Italians calling him and others a negroesa as shameful. He even had to justify being part of the national team, saying, a I really wanted (to play for Italy) since I was born and have always lived in Italy.a No other Italian player received such criticism, not to mention had their Italian-ness questioned. Had Balotellia s shot against Costa Rica gone in, things might have been different. Perhaps he lost Italy that game, but perhaps he was also the only one that could have won it for a team that was a shadow of its former glory. In the end he was an obvious scapegoat, the face of Italya s failure.
Mario Balotelli is not a great striker, but a good one, still with plenty of potential. He has had an above average career for someone his age, scored the odd important goal and has suffered immensely from his larger-than-life public image. His antics never helped and put more pressure on him to perform. According to the media, Balotelli is the new Cantona on one day and a failed player on another. It is unlikely that he will be either of those two, but people seem to forget everything they know once a fiery headline catches their eye.
Written by Julian Bonte-Friedheim